Thursday, April 1, 2010

Marxism 2010: Old Left Revival

Socialist Alternative are hosting this event in Melbourne over Easter. Looking at the agenda online it is amazing to see such a history-heavy agenda – yet only one workshop (out of nearly 60 different advertised sessions) that looks at environmental issues. “Stopping global warming: the need for anti-capitalist politics” is the one workshop. Socialist Alternative are capable of some analysis of the issues. Yet it is just not a priority for them (as I have complained before).

What kind of “Marxism” is it that can ignore such a fundamental issue? We have such timeless topics as “Why do socialists need a party?”, we have all sorts of historical lectures such as “Founding a revolutionary current: the hidden history of American Trotskyism.” But the most pressing issue in the world today (that’s not an exaggeration) is basically a footnote for their “Marxism”.Their conference might as well be called "Marxism 1910" or "Marxism 2110".

It’s not just that Socialist Alternative are almost totally absent from the climate change movement. Even if Marxism 2010 was intended to be a purely academic conference, there is a rich vein of writing on ecology and socialism to tap. It would add to their arsenal of criticisms of capitalism. To name just four vital books:

Marx’s Ecology, by John Bellamy Foster
Biology Under the Influence, by Richard Lewontin and Richard Levins
Making Peace with the Planet, by Barry Commoner
Stop Global Warming: Change the World, by Jonathan Neale

I hope at least that Socialist Alternative members are reading books like these. Yet I don't hold out much hope: there is no evidence in their public presentation.

The terms "old left" and "new left" are from the 1960s. They are part of what is, now, the Old Left's terminology. I don't know what new terms will be coined for the new Old Left, but the new New Left is being born around the world, and it is a profoundly green, or if you prefer, eco-socialist left.


  1. Actually Ben we are reading these books, publishing all sorts of material on the environmental crisis as a crisis of capitalism, holding meetings across Australian on the issue and looking to join in mass movements where they exist.

    We make the point that it is the working class which holds the key to addressing this most profound of issues, and your attempts to paint us in the fake dichotomy of new Old Left versus new New Left is nonsense.

  2. I hope the conference went well, John - but I find it very odd that Socialist Alternative are so uninvolved in the climate movement. If your members are reading books like those, then that's good. What do they do with the knowledge thus gained?

    If it is "the working class which holds the key to addressing this most profound of issues", does that mean that Socialist Alternative don't need to address it in detail now? I don't understand the near absence of the issue from your conference. Maybe Marxism 2011 can balance it out a bit? The working class do hold the key, but they sure don't know that yet.

  3. I have to wonder that if SAlt are doing their reading what prevents then doing much about it?

    I've had my share of exchanges like this before with others on the left where the "working class" is separated off from "issues" as though there are class issues and non class issues such that the 'environment' and the destruction of the ecology of the whole planet is not a class issue.

    The problem being that it seems almost absurd as well as politically myopic to keep the climate change issue at arms length and not to actively engage with it -- esp when you consider that the SAlt roots for the Greens and no one else regardless of politics at election time.


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